Meet the Glasgow Street Pastors keeping people safe

Street Pastors Stuart Crawford in Glasgow � Martin Hunter
Street Pastors Stuart Crawford in Glasgow � Martin Hunter
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It is 2:10am on a cold Saturday morning in December in the centre of Glasgow, and a young man clearly in need of help is leaning against the shop front of a branch of Waterstones.

Dressed only in boots and a pair of black sports shorts, the rest of him is bare and exposed to the elements. He is flanked by two police officers waiting anxiously for an ambulance to arrive.

Street Pastors in Glasgow � Martin Hunter

Street Pastors in Glasgow � Martin Hunter

The man has no-one and nothing else with him other than his police guardians. Nobody knows where he has been, but he appears to have walked out of one of the nearby nightclubs, oblivious to his semi-nakedness.

The man is in need of a Good Samaritan, and luckily one is at hand in the form of Stuart Crawford. He is one of Glasgow’s small army of Street Pastors – volunteers who give up their Friday and Saturday nights to look out for and help people in need.

The biblical parable is often apt in situations they come across on a nightly basis in the city, particularly in the run-up to Christmas when heavy drinking and cold weather go hand in hand.

Stuart rummages in a bag he is carrying and produces a foil parcel containing a silver space blanket of the type usually given to marathon runners. He drapes it around the man to keep him warm.

Glasgow Street Pastors, Pics � Martin Hunter

Glasgow Street Pastors, Pics � Martin Hunter

Minutes later, an ambulance backs down Argyle Street and the man is placed carefully inside. The episode is over.

“That’s as much as we could do in that situation. It was clearly a case where that man needed hospital attention,” Stuart says.

“We could help to keep him warm but he is not someone we could help beyond that. I’d like to think that we played our part, though – even if it was just being a support, an extra pair of eyes and ears to the police officers.”

Rather than just do-gooders handing out flip-flops and lollipops, Street Pastors are now a recognised part of the strategy to make Glasgow city centre a safer place to go out.

Street Pastor Stuart Crawford and Elaine Nicol � Martin Hunter

Street Pastor Stuart Crawford and Elaine Nicol � Martin Hunter

The volunteers are connected by radio and headsets to the central CCTV control that covers the city, which is also used by the police, taxi marshals and nightclub door staff.

Their headsets allows the Street Pastors to alert agencies to potential situations and call for assistance if needed, making for a co-ordinated and sophisticated approach to keeping people safe.

“The [nightclub doormen] will often phone in and say there is a vulnerable young lady heading to the taxi rank in Sauchiehall Street and can you keep an eye on them,” says Elaine Nicholl, who is working the same shift as Stuart.

“There have been instances in the past where we’ve had carloads of guys just trawling round, and they see someone who looks a likely candidate.

“They’ll jump out and chat her up and make her feel good and all the rest of it, and say ‘Here, we’ll give you a lift home’.”

Elaine, Stuart and their colleague Liz Dalglish have already been out on the streets for just over three hours. The sights have varied from the Burlesque to the Dickensian: abject poverty mixed with festive over-indulgence.

Off Buchanan Street in the city’s Royal Exchange Square a woman is sitting on the floor, being propped up by her friend who is talking on her phone.

The two female Street Pastors go over to help. The friend with the phone says her husband is coming to pick them up, but they are not sure where he is. The pastors offer the women the customary flip-flops that they carry to protect feet freed of uncomfortable stilettos.

The woman who is worse for wear has vomited on the pavement. She is supported onto her feet by the pastors, who walk her along Queen Street while her friend is free to make calls to her husband.

Rather than being resentful at the intrusion, the friend is happy that help is here. “The Street Pastors do a wonderful job – they do a great thing. We are lucky to have them,” she says.

Street Pastors have been working in the UK since 2003, and ten years in Scotland. North of the Border, there are 23 different groups in towns and cities playing their part in the night economy.

They work a lot with homeless people, but at this time of the year the emphasis is also on Christmas revellers.

Stuart, from East Kilbride, is the only paid member of the Glasgow group. It is his job to co-ordinate the 100 or so volunteers into shifts across the year.

“It is a bit like running a small business – but it’s not something I thought I would be doing when I retired from teaching,” he says.

“We really think we make a difference to the city at night – and the reaction we get from people tells us that. People are – with very few exceptions – positive and appreciative of what we do.

“It’s important not to be judgmental. You have to take people as you find them.”

Liz, a psychologist who lives in the East End of the city, says: “I do this because it’s about helping other people. I have seven children and I would like to think that there was positive help and influence if they needed it. I like to do that for other people.”

Elaine is a facilities manager in Glasgow during the day, but has been a Street Pastor for several years.

The job is very rewarding, she says, and two nights are never the same.

“We’ve seen some spectacular turnarounds in situations we’ve been involved in,” she says. “Something that was a right rammy [argument] we’ve been able to calm down.

“This whole thing works as a community effort – and the city is a better place when people work together.”